Have You Reached Career Fulfillment?

My father retired at the ripe old age of 60, after 30 years of working for the same organization.  30+ years of service working for one organization is common amongst the baby boomers, but uncommon with  millennials where jumping from one company to the next is the norm.  Certain professions, such as physicians and teachers, may still follow this traditional 30+ year pattern, but these jobs are the exception, not the norm today.

I’m sure that my father felt a sense of accomplishment/ fulfillment as he looked back on his career.  After starting out as a struggling graduate visa student, his long career provided a stable middle-class upbringing for me and my brother, which I am truly grateful for.

Recently, I find myself wondering at what stage of his career did my father feel that sense of fulfillment?   Did it occur after 10 years on the job?  or was it after 20?  Does one really need to work 30+ years to achieve this state of nirvana?

Maybe Forrest Gump knew the best way to find fulfillment, and it is by doing things that you want, for as long as you want, based on your desires and needs.  Forrest found fulfillment in all of his endeavours at his own pace.

What is “fulfillment“?   According to Oxford Dictionary, it is:

the achievement of something desired, promised or predicted”

or

“satisfaction or happiness as a result of fully developing one’s potential”

Synonyms for fulfillment include: satisfaction, contentment, gratification, peace of mind, vindication, achievement, attainment

Sounds straightforward enough, but 2 people working at the same job may reach career fulfillment at different times because they have different personal goals that they are striving for.

Personal Goals

We all have different goals and aspirations which we set out for ourselves at the beginning of our careers.  For some people, they may not find career fulfillment until:

  • reaching a certain title or position in the organization
  • reaching a certain income level
  • reaching a certain number of years to qualify for a pension
  • publishing a certain # of papers (i.e. 100) or publishing in a specific journal like Science or Nature (in the case of a professor or scientist)
  • reaching of certain market share or successful exit (public offering or acquisition), if running your own business
  • winning an award or championship, or making it professionally for an athlete

For others, achieving job satisfaction comes from intangibles, such as contributing to society and helping others.  But, how do you know when you have helped enough?   How many students does a teacher need to teach to find fulfillment?  How many patients does a physician need to treat to find fulfillment?  There is no exact number, and the answer will depend on the individual themselves.

“Why would you do that?  You are in your prime?”

This was the response from one of my colleagues when I mentioned I was planning on scaling back to part-time next year (my 10th year as a staff physician).   A newly-minted physician usually needs a few years under their belt before becoming competent and confident in their skills and knowledge.  By 7-10 years of practice, most physicians are well-oiled machines and will reach their peak skills and knowledge for patient care.  I suspect that the 7-10 year peak performance period applies to other professions as well.

Some would argue that a physician should work at least as long as it took to educate them.  This may range from 5-10+ years of education after undergrad, to train as a physician (depending on medical school and residency).  However, this argument falls into the “sunk cost” fallacy, which is to continue an action based on past decisions (time, money, resources) rather than a choosing a more rational choice at the present time.

http://willingness.com.mt/the-sunk-cost-fallacy/

I am partly guilty of succumbing to the sunk costs fallacy.  I set 10 years as my goal to scale down to part-time work, as it took me 10 years (4 years medical school + 5 years residency + 1 year fellowship) to learn my trade.  It really doesn’t make any sense, but to my lizard brain, it feels rational to work full-time at least as long as the number of years that I was in “school”.  (Technically, physicians are working during residency and treating patients, therefore, should the time in residency be added to the number of years worked?  But I digress….)

My primary reason for going to part-time in the near future is because I have realized my career goals are fulfilled.  There was no specific day when I woke up and thought “Yes!  Pat on the back for a good career!”, but more of a gradual feeling which has become more apparent over the past year.

Going into medical school, I had planned on a 30+ year career in medicine at full-throttle.  Looking back at my Padawan self, I can only sit back and smile at his idealistic naivety :).   The training to become a physician is a long pipeline, such that you come out as a different person than when you started.   I entered medical school as a bachelor and finished residency as a husband and father of 2.   These are very different worlds!  I still enjoy my job and helping patients, however, I do not think that adding another 20+ years at full-throttle will bring any significant increase in fulfillment for me, other than trading in my time for money.

www.iwillteachyoutoberich.com

Maybe career fulfillment plateaus and stays at the same level, or it continues upwards or spirals downwards depending on the person and job.   My plan is to venture into part-time work and maintain that fulfillment plateau (or upward trend) throughout the rest of my career.

When you have “won the game” in investing, financial gurus recommend decreasing the risk of your portfolio by dialing back the equity exposure.  I wonder if the same concept can be applied to career fulfillment.   If financially possible, consider decreasing your work hours to spend more time with your family and to take care of your mental and physical health to avoid burn-out, which in turn will help keep your job enjoyable and satisfying.  Only time will tell whether this is the right path for me, or if this is simply a mid-life crisis moment!

One thing that I know is by becoming financially independent, you eliminate (or lessen the influence of) money in the equation, thus allowing you to see clearly what fulfills you and how you want to spend your time.  You may realize that you have reached career fulfillment in less time than expected.

As for my colleague’s question “Why would you do that? You are in your prime?”.    Being in my prime is exactly why I am scaling back to part-time.  I want to spend the majority of my “prime” years with my family and do the things that I was always “too busy” to do.   I find it hard to believe that my future-self will look back at this decision with regret.

Lastly, I want to leave something for you to ponder…Recently, I have been asking my family and friends this question:   “Assuming money is not an issue, how many years do you need to work at your job to feel fulfilled?”

Interestingly, they all responded with the same answer of “5-10 years”, even though they vary in age and work in different professions/industries.  Perhaps, there is a correlation between career fulfillment and time to peak job performance, like in my case.

How about you?

How many years do you need to work at your job in order to feel fulfilled?

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28 Comments on "Have You Reached Career Fulfillment?"

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Steveark
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Very interesting post. Like your dad I decided to retire at 59. Work had stopped being fun for almost 2 years at that point after the rest of my 38 years there were mostly great fun. I felt fulfilled almost every day of my career. I had set a goal of running the company by the time I hit 40 and I achieved that at 41. I could have retired much earlier than I did but work was fun and left me plenty of family time and leisure time. It also gave me alot of purpose trying to mentor and… Read more »
Dr. MB
Guest

I agree with 5-10 years. The “newness” of the work wears off. Part time is the best idea DN! Some specialists quit their practices locally and have had a tough time securing locum work. It is much better to choose to work less on your own terms. You can always make more money but you can not regain the lost free time of your younger self.

Loonie Doctor
Guest
This was a great post. I think 5-10 years is about right for something also. One thing about medicine though is that it is easy to change your career and fulfill your career in different paths within medicine over time. Obtaining financial independence is key to removing the money piece from the equation and giving more options. However, even without it you can shift around to different things that still pay (usually less – nothing pays as well as being a clinical work-beast). I have changed paths now several times already both clinically and in non-clinical work – usually about… Read more »
DrG
Guest

In my surgical subspecialty, I need to work 3 days in the office to generate 1 day of OR. So working any less is impossible, even if I was FI.

Loonie Doctor
Guest
Great discussion around the feasibility of scaling back. It is certainly different for different specialties and even within specialties depending on community and group size. I now do ICU which is scalable. Even within ICU, there are harder jobs than others. We have heavy services (like level 3 ICU) and lighter ones (like stepdown or consults). When I started, we just had ICU, but we built the other services. Our group has enough variability in age, other demands, and preferences that we do a different mix of each. One way to scale back in that setting is to shift towards… Read more »
Phil
Guest
Hi all, I’m not in medicine but manage my wife’s practice and would like to offer a thought. I have some difficulty with the separation of work/non work life. If it’s not suited to you in the first place why continue with the goal of ‘retireing’. I do see the value in balancing work to suit individually but why not find something you love enough to wish for it to never end. FI allows for this in any field. I ‘work in the arts’ and have no intention of ever stopping barring an extreme problematic unexpected life situation. Great comments… Read more »
Loonie Doctor
Guest
I think you have clarity Phil. Hopefully more people will lift their heads up to look around and really think about what they do and why. Medicine is actually my dream job and as I have progressed financially, I have jettisoned the parts I don’t like. I actually like inhouse night call (it is either quiet or I am up doing really cool things). I am fortunate that I have multiple types of radically different work that I can do within medicine. I don’t think there is any one “job” that I could do for my whole life – I… Read more »
Dr L
Guest

Hi Dr. Networth.

I read this article today in the Medical Post.

I was just wondering if you “had a number” (size of investment portfolio) for safely / comfortably dropping down to part-time? I am a 40 y/o FP (only in practice for 8 years). I was hoping to do something similar to you, but am guessing I’d need another 4-5 years for that to be financially feasible.

Thanks for any advice you might have. Keep up the good work. 🙂

aGoodLifeMD
Guest
I feel the same way about being fulfilled. I’ve worked much harder than necessary early in my career even in training for many reasons and I know I won’t need 30 years to feel fulfilled. I plan on cutting back in 5-10 and see how that feels. That’ll be 15-20 years practicing total. Financially we could stop now, but I don’t want too. I’m enjoying it more than even now that money isn’t an issue. I count residency as part of my career by the way, I was getting paid to care for patients and my training was very hands… Read more »
Wealthy Doc
Guest

Interesting perspective.
I switched to part-time after 19 years of clinical practice. It has been awesome. I haven’t suffered financially and I have a more enjoyable and more balanced life now.